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RWE npower may avoid Tilbury plant closure

In Tilbury, England, UK, energy company RWE npower may be able to keep its 1,050MW coal-fired power plant open beyond 2015 as the company has been working to convert it to a biomass power station.

Under European law, RWE npower and eight other power stations will be closed down in 2015 due to a European acid rain directive. However, following a conversion project which is due to take place during mid-2011, the plant would then burn 2.3 million tonnes of biomass between then and 2015, making it the largest wood burning plant in the UK.

'What we are planning to do for the last few years of its life is see if we could convert it,' says Dan Meredith, a spokesman for RWE npower. 'We want to see if the technology is feasible. Using this kind of fuel on this kind of scale hasn't been done before. It makes business sense. Obviously the uncertainty is difficult and that's why this is a timely project for us. After 2016 we've got a few other strategic options.'

If the converted power plant proves successful, RWE npower would either have to re-license the plant or construct a combined cycle gas turbine plant at the same location. This project would be part-funded by ROCs.

While similar large-scale biomass-fired power plants, such as the Port Talbot, Wales-located Prenergy plant, have been criticised by action groups, Meredith is not concerned that the Tilbury plant will receive the same treatment and believes that it would prove advantageous for the surrounding area.

'If you were standing outside it, you wouldn't notice the difference,' he claims. 'It's not only fantastic carbon saving, but we're also going to reduce [the output of] nitrous oxide and dust. It's good for everyone.'

The majority of wood pellets that will be utilised at the site will be transported from RWE Innogy's wood pellet facility in the state of Georgia, US. 'RWE has quite a lot of biomass experience in the Netherlands. We're very confident we can make sure this is a sustainable project,' Meredith concluded.